Small Wars Journal

A CIA COINdinista's Misgivings

A CIA COINdinista's Misgivings on Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan - Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent.

The leak I got yesterday from Kandahar expressing skepticism that counterinsurgency can bring the nine-year war in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion has inspired another one. This time, a former CIA counterterrorism operative who has served on the ground in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq agreed to pass along a memo he has briefed to top military leaders since the fall debate over Afghanistan strategy. It's crossed desks at the White House, the Pentagon, U.S. Central Command and even Gen. Stanley McChrystal's command in Afghanistan.

While I can't go into the sourcing of this memo, it's penned by someone who began embracing population-centric counterinsurgency to mitigate the deterioration of the Iraq war as far back as 2005 — something that not a lot of CIA operatives bought into, then or today. Despite that pedigree, the CIA operative contends that attempts to protect the population from the insurgency and facilitate the delivery of Afghan government services are fatally undermined by the persistent corruption and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government and its institutions.

His counterproposal, similar to a controversial approach advocated by an Army Special Forces major named Jim Gant, is to use Afghanistan's various tribes as a proxy for both political legitimacy against the Taliban and a more effective and relevant structure for the provision of governance and economic development. He's taken to calling it "Tribe-Centric Unconventional Warfare/Foreign Internal Defense." ...

More at The Washington Independent.


Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 02/04/2011 - 1:02am

Agree with Carl. These comments are incredibly educational.


Demon Fox

Tue, 02/01/2011 - 11:21pm

Carl, that's a good question about the night raids. I also like your analogy with the beach landings.

Night raids are one of those necessary evils that we sometimes have to do. Depending on the target, late-night raids may be the best or only way to get them without a huge fight ensuing. The Afghan public, however, are very concerned about this tactic resulting in "disappearing men". It is a tactic similar to their experiences with the Soviets and Taliban - so we put ourselves into the same negative light when we do it.

The Taliban, just like insurgents in Iraq, use the "night letter" tactic. They drop letters on doorsteps in the middle of the night threatening families if they don't fly right and support the insurgency. So, Americans coming in the night to take their men doesn't look so different.

Although they don't like us conducting raids in the night, the locals very much appreciate US and allied patrols through the villages in the night. Our presence assures them that the Taliban will not be able to deliver night letters, plant IEDs, or other bad things. Shuras, or meetings with village elders, are often carried out at night as well to protect the local families from being seen with Americans.

I've seen some interesting arguments concerning the concept of "COIN". I've heard criticisms about this or that commander or unit kicking in doors all the time (Direct Action) and therefore not conducting COIN. It must be clarified that killing and capturing insurgents is an important part of COIN, but when it's ALL you are doing then it is NOT COIN! COIN encompasses the entire spectrum of kinetic and non-kinetic activities to defeat an insurgency. You can't just focus on one slice of it to accomplish the mission.



Demon Fox

Tue, 02/01/2011 - 10:50pm

IntelTrooper, you make a valid point. Your story reminds me of the ODA team sergeant I had during my fourth trip to OIF in 2007. Like myself and other veterans on the team, he was there during the initial invasion and surrender in Iraq in 2003. However, after that tour he went to instructor duty at Ft. Bragg for three years. When he returned to the Group he was given the team sergeant position on my team. Although he participated in the initial ground war, he did not experience any of the COIN and counter-IED fight we conducted after that. He implemented SOPs that were not relevant to the environment and even dangerous to the team. He refused to listen to myself and other experienced NCOs on the team. It was frustrating and a bit scary.

Another big difference between the two theaters I forgot to mention is the disbursement of ISAF units compared to Iraqi CF units. In OIF, battalions or larger consolidated on large FOBs with little access to the public. In OEF, many of the units are spread out in platoon and even squad-sized COPs. Squads are given battlespaces to operate and integrate with the locals. This is a huge improvement over the TTPs of OIF. This can only be done in areas where the enemy doesn't normally consolidate in large groups. In some areas - especially the east and southeast areas - the enemy comes in super-sizes requiring larger COPs.

There were lots of mistakes made in both theaters. In Iraq, we watched with stunned amazement as Paul Bremer's Iraqi Provisional Authority disbanded the Iraqi Army after the initial invasion. WTF?!? In one pen stroke he destroyed our ability to bring security and stability to the country.

The SF elements in the north went immediately into COIN mode the minute the Iraqi Army abandoned their positions and disappeared into the population. Although everyone was celebrating and claiming victory, we knew the situation was tenuous. It sure didn't help that "allied" Turkish SF units were covertly roaming around northern Iraq trying to incite the Turkomen population into insurgency to help the Turkish government take control of some of that oil. The 173rd fighting with us busted some of them and the Kurds escorted them back across the border.

It took well into 2004 before the high command actually publicly acknowledged that there was an insurgency. SF was reporting that fact as early as April 2003. I recall as we prepared for our OIF II deployment to start in Sep 2003, my detachment commander submitted his restated ODA mission to the bn commander. The command asked him why his mission statement included conducting COIN. We, the team, were perplexed that our own leadership would ask such a silly question. The reports from the ODA still in country made it abundantly clear that an insurgency was underway and quickly gaining momentum.

It's amazing how naive even the smartest people at the mid and high levels can be. Or, perhaps they bury their heads in the sand when things are not going the way they're supposed to and it makes for bad reading the President's Daily Brief!

If anyone recalls, even before the Iraq invasion smart guys like David Petraeus publicly criticized the lack of manpower being committed to the fight. He was one of the few that understood that it wasn't about having enough fight power to bring down the Saddam regime, it was about having the strength to properly secure the country after the fight was over.



IntelTrooper (not verified)

Tue, 02/01/2011 - 12:46am

Just one quick counter-point to Todd's first point:

<blockquote>Many folks I ran into asked the same question about transference of lessons-learned or made the simple statement of denial, "this is Afghanistan, not Iraq!".</blockquote>

I think a large part of the backlash against the "Well, when I was in Iraq..." came from the brigades who rotated through whose last experience was Iraq in 2005 and who seemed to have learned exactly the wrong lessons during their pre-deployment training and were now afflicting everyone with their Iraq "everyone is a potential suicide bomber" TTPs.

I can't tell you how much damage these people did to our efforts in just getting close to the people and understanding Afghanistan on its own terms.

I know many Iraq veterans have extremely valuable counterinsurgency and organizational experience to relate but it for a good stretch there it seemed like they were bringing the wrong baggage to the fight.

Just my 2 cents.

carl (not verified)

Mon, 01/31/2011 - 11:24am


I forgot to ask about night raids. Are they worth the trouble they seem to cause amongst the Afghans?

carl (not verified)

Sun, 01/30/2011 - 9:54pm


Your comments are some of the most interesting and educational I've read, extremely valuable for an interested civilian like me. Please continue whenever you can.

Your comment about OIF experience not being given due credit in OEF reminds me about something I read concerning oppossed landings in WWII. Pacific experience was not given due credit in the ETO because it was the Pacific, not the ETO. This resulted in some misfortune for us, especially at Normandy.

Demon Fox

Sun, 01/30/2011 - 7:14pm

Good questions and comments, Madhu:

Many folks I ran into asked the same question about transference of lessons-learned or made the simple statement of denial, "this is Afghanistan, not Iraq!". Generally, the people who made such a statement had little or no experience in Iraq, because units that deployed to OIF normally stayed dedicated to that theater and the same for units committed to OEF. As a result, there are only a handful of units that have experience in both theaters and can make the contrast-comparison.

I was actually very surprised at how similar the insurgent situation in OEF is to OIF (3-5 years ago). Reading through reports and listening to discussions, it was like deja-vu. I read/heard the same discussions and arguments I remember hearing in OIF years ago. Many of the same TTPs are being implemented - SLOWLY - in OEF and they are working. But, just like years ago in OIF, there are people who don't believe these concepts will work. They will, I guarantee you, but not without the senior leadership implementing them.

Aside from the "general" COIN practices working in both theaters, many of the "specific" TTPs work in both as well. Not all, mind you, but most. There are certainly some big differences between the two countries that require tweaking of TTPs to match the operational environment:

- A huge difference between the two theaters is the narcotics dimension. You did not see this element in Iraq. The opium trade is a BIG money-getter not only for the Taliban and affiliates, but also for the common farmer. Eradication of the opium fields is not a viable option. Not only is there just WAY too much of it, but we make enemies of thousands of farmers who will join the insurgency to redeem their honor. Eradication also denies those farmers the money they need to support their families for the rest of the year. It's just a bad idea. The best option is to target the production facilities scattered throughout the country after harvest and hit the Taliban in their financial center of gravity. Additionally, but much less known, is the hashish trade there. Afghans, including their soldiers and policemen, openly smoke hashish on the job. This is an element of FID ISAF soldiers and advisors must contend with. Oh, interesting fact on Afghani opium: the Iranians are the biggest consumers!

- Iraqis have a MUCH higher education level than Afghans, with a greater understanding of their place in world society. Most Iraqis I know had college educations. Most Afghans don't have basic reading or writing skills and have no real connection to their central, provincial, or even district government. They are village-centric and that is the boundaries of their world.

- Most Iraqis commonly travel throughout their province or nation, even internationally. Most Afghans don't travel more than a few miles from their village in their entire lifetime.

- To Iraqis, a "foreign fighter" means some guy from Syria, Chechnya, Iran, etc. To an Afghan, a "foreign fighter" or "out-of-area fighter" is some guy from an Afghan village 20 miles away.

- Iraqis essentially have a common language used throughout: Arabic. The Afgans have a "national" language of Dari, but language can vary from Dari to Pashto or other languages between villages and regions. So, a Dari-speaking Afghan Army soldier trying to gain intel in a Pashto village may not have a whole lot of luck. Also, it's a lot more likely to find an English-speaking Iraqi than an Afghan due to higher education levels.

- Iraqi insurgents generally fought us solely through the use of IEDs. They mostly abandoned direct fire contacts with us after the first couple of years because they kept losing. Afghans also use a lot of IEDs, but they are MUCH more willing to start direct-fire engagements - and they're pretty good at it.

- Afghans tend to be much braver in combat than Iraqis and more willing to stand their ground.

- Iraqi IEDs are generally much more sophisticated than Afghani style. Afghans tend to use more Viet Cong style IEDs with buried pressure plate devices in wooden boxes. Simple and effective, but it also means our IED discovery rate in OEF is far, far higher than in OIF.

- Iraqis are more tied to their tribal affiliations than Afghans. The remoteness of Afghan villages has created a society that is more village-centric with village elders making decisions. In Iraq, a tribal sheik that lives 50 miles away still has a lot of influence and can often start or stop insurgent activities with a word. Defiance of a sheik's order not to attack Coalition Forces can lead to serious consequences for the offenders and his family. In AF, you generally gotta go village to village and meet with each set of elders since there is often no over-arching sheik or elder that can make decisions for all the villages collectively.

- Along the same lines, there has a developed a general lack of respect for the elders of Afghanistan. In Iraq, it was respect for the decisions of the tribal sheiks that fed the "Awakening" and the end of the insurgency. In AF, many young men have been lured by the money, action, and recognition of being part of the Taliban movement and the decisions of elders are often ignored. Their society has become even more fragmented than it already was.

- Another similarity between the two theaters is the wide spectrum of "enemies" that are encountered. As in OIF, enemies in OEF vary from hard-core AQ and Taliban high-command leadership to drug smugglers. Just like we used the collective - yet erroneous - title of "Al Qaida" for Sunni groups in Iraq, we use the similar - and equally erroneous - title of "Taliban" in Afghanistan. This broad-based naming convention is convenient (and invokes hateful emotions in our soldiers and citizens), but it also subverts the targeting process. Remember, the word Taliban means "religious student". So, do we really want to ask the local villagers to help us kill and capture "religious students"?!? What's in a name? Everything!

Amrullah Saleh's comments about reintegrating the Taliban into Afghan society is correct. This is how you end an insurgency and ultimately win in COIN. Again, this was already done in OIF with great success. It starting with groups like the 1920 Revolution Brigade turning on Al Qaida and its allies and eventually led to the surrender and amnesty of AQ fighters which allowed them to rejoin society and make a peaceful contribution. As in OIF, this policy is now being implemented in OEF with success. It is still in the beginning stages and, just like in Iraq, there are nay-sayers that threaten to mess up the works. Reintegration programs allow ex-Taliban and indeed whole villages to turn back from the dark side and actually become allies in the COIN fight.



Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 01/30/2011 - 12:36pm

<em>Winning hearts and minds is great, but sometimes just agreeing to work together for a while to rid the bad elements is enough.</em>

Made me think of the following:

<em>Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster's Task Force Shafafiyat (Dari for "transparency") is building and will put in place an integrated plan to tackle corruption in the Afghan government, largely circumventing individual leaders. Lieut. Gen. Bill Caldwell's Herculean effort to train the Afghan military aims to "thicken" Afghan forces and deny sanctuaries within Afghanistan, slowly changing the perception of the fight among Afghans from what is essentially a civil conflict to a war against invaders trained by the Pakistani secret service.</em> - CNAS

And also:

<em>Ever. There must be a process. And according to that process, based on that process, Taliban should become part of the society and play according to the script of democracy. They should be demobilized, disarmed, reintegrated the way Northern Alliance was. ... And also they should denounce violence. And that process will bring a lasting stability. Minus that, if there is a deal, deals never bring stability. They create fragile peace. ...

What I have been saying so far -- and I have been misinterpreted -- that if there is a deal, we will resist against the deal, "we" meaning all the forces who fought the Taliban. ...</em> - Amrullah Saleh…

Very interesting comments, Todd.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 01/30/2011 - 12:27pm

<em>Unfortunately, you would be surprised at how little lessons-learned like this are disseminated. This is one of the first things me and other colleagues noticed when we came to Afghanistan in 2010 after spending all our time in Iraq - almost NO lessons from OIF had been transferred to OEF!</em>

How well do lessons from OIF translate to the environment of OEF? Might this be one reason for friction and lack of rapport?

Just curious. In another thread, the potential importance of locality and its effect on "general" COIN principles was discussed. Basically, how well can you generalize from conflict to conflict? I don't know, that's why I ask :)

Demon Fox

Sun, 01/30/2011 - 12:14pm

Unfortunately, you would be surprised at how little lessons-learned like this are disseminated. This is one of the first things me and other colleagues noticed when we came to Afghanistan in 2010 after spending all our time in Iraq - almost NO lessons from OIF had been transferred to OEF!

Measure have bee taken to fix this. For example, Gen McChrystal formed the COIN Advisory and Assistance Team (CAAT) in November 2009 for the specific purpose of ensuring the effective COIN TTPs are spread across the theater and ineffective practices are recognized - if not abolished. The CAAT is part of Gen Petraeus' staff and report to him. Additionally, I have noticed a lot of Gen Petraeus' policies reflect his lessons-learned from OIF. He is one of the very few senior officers which have commanded in both theaters. He is a super-smart guy and is making sure mistakes are being corrected.

The main issue I see with improving operations is EGOS. Most commanders don't like CAAT contractors and military personnel telling them how to do things better. They have a difficult job and must first gain rapport and trust with battlespace owners before they can start giving suggestions. It's politics, man, politics!!



anonymous from above (not verified)

Sat, 01/29/2011 - 10:12pm

Todd, amazing the story about the redeeming the honor and the way that situation was dealt with! This just shows that TRADITION is so so so important in Af. I am sure our troops have learnt alot from incidents like this.

Demon Fox

Sat, 01/29/2011 - 12:47am


Actually, you just reinforced the argument I made in my first post. That's the whole point I was making - the locals are capable of handling their own security and should be given the means and authority to do so. This, as I stated earlier, is the primary reason why we won Iraq and are currently withdrawing.

In Iraq, local tribal leaders asked for permission to create their own security forces to fight against Al Qaida elements and other affiliated groups. Even groups that were once fighting with AQ turned on them because they realized they made a mistake supporting the wrong side. Many areas of Afghanistan are following this same pattern where local elders are raising their hands to be responsible for their own village security - and it is working to keep the Taliban out in several key areas.

Coalition Forces along with their Iraqi and Afghan allies are perfectly capable of clearing a village of enemy; however, due to the lack of forces we cannot hold it. It is incumbent upon the local village elders or tribal leadership to do this. We must empower them to do so.

The locals can and have taken casualties. But nothing is more powerful than men defending their families. Unfortunately, in many areas the strength of the Taliban does not allow the locals the momentum to start their own local defense force (LDF). CF and Afghan allies must first clear the area of Taliban and allow the local elders breathing room to get their LDF on its feet. It is a very dangerous proposition they take on to do this. Also, many of the fighting age males in most villages have either joined the Taliban (because they had little choice) or moved out of the area in fear. As a result, village elders have no pool of young fighters to pull from to form an LDF.

SOF and other units are currently working this problem in Afghanistan. Just like in Iraq, many of the local insurgent groups are not really "Taliban". Just like Al Qaida in Iraq, they loosely subscribe to that name (or not at all) and affiliate themselves for money, power, and recognition. Many of the "Taliban" could care less about the fundamentalist Islamic ideology - they just want to move their opium get the profits. However, I've seen in many cases where the local "Taliban" have defied the high Taliban leadership (based in Pakistan) due to conflicts of interests. The Taliban high command may have grandiose visions of an Islamic utopia, but the local and regional leadership have their own interests which take priority.

"Anonymous" asked about making progress in winning hearts and minds. Overall, yes, we have made progress in that area. However, CIVCAS (civilian casualty) incidents are far too many and can destroy all progress made in an area. Afghan tradition demands revenge when an insult such as this has been made. But, their tradition also also allows for ways to repay insults to honor.

Here is a great story I read: A platoon took over a combat outpost that regularly came under attack from the local village. Instead of ordering a clearing operation like most US and allied leaders would do, the platoon leader met with the village elders and asked why the village attacks the US outpost. The elders explained it was due to a incident that happened three years prior where the US raided the village and the attacks were to redeem that dishonor. The platoon leader ordered some small, simple civil affairs projects be conducted in the village. The attacks ceased completely.

The Afghans are simple, honorable people. I compare them to many of the backwoods folks of the Appalachians and other rural areas of the US. One of their well-known attributes is their hospitality to travelers and those who require help. If you recall the SEAL team that was wiped out save one man, it was this hospitality that saved his life. Badly wounded, the SEAL made his way to a nearby village and asked for help - fully expecting to be turned over to the Taliban. The villagers gave him aid and defended him with their life. That is their way.

As for "winning hearts and minds". I allude to the old Arabic saying, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". We used this in Iraq to get the locals to work with us when they would normally try to kill us. Many of the surrogate forces we worked with to secure villages absolutely hated Americans and would kill an American soldier in a heartbeat, but they realized we had to work together to defeat the radical elements. They also realized that if we worked together it meant the Americans would leave much faster. So, we never really won their hearts and minds or made friends; we simply made temporary alliances for the betterment of everyone and to get the Americans and other foreigners out of Iraq as soon as possible. It's a shame it took three or more years to get them to that point.

We can make the same approach in Afghanistan. Winning hearts and minds is great, but sometimes just agreeing to work together for a while to rid the bad elements is enough. Then we can part ways and let them live their lives without interference. With regards to forming LDFs, I've heard the same arguments we had four years ago in Iraq. Many people at high levels are against forming LDFs for fear of empowering warlords with their own militias. Prime Minister Maliki was against forming these groups in Iraq and so is President Karzai. We also had to convince many members of the US Congress, the White House, and senior military leadership. We - the little guys on the ground - did it by showing them that the program works. Now, in Afghanistan, we have to re-convince them again.



Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 01/27/2011 - 8:30pm

Didn't the promoters of COIN say that this strategy would make us win people's hearts and minds?

Has the insurgency been squelched to any degree? I think so, so COIN is successful to some degree.But have we won more hearts and minds?
They are going to hate us as long as we stay there. Us being there will always be a recruiting tool for the jihadis.

But I am also very nervous as to what will happen if we leave. Look at the reaction to Taseer's assassination in Pakistan, it seems like even the educated class were rejoicing this, they are becoming more radical in their thinking and behavior. Afghanistan could also slip back into the same kind of more and more radical thinking? I am sure like kdog said ANSF can provide their own security and topple the Taliban like they did with less US troops in 2001. But who is going to prevent the ANSF from slipping into radical mindset like happened to the Pak. lawyers? Perhaps us leaving will prevent it? I dont know. Its the chicken or egg now. Do I even make sense?

kdog101 (not verified)

Thu, 01/27/2011 - 12:26am

An ANSF soldier:

1) Must be trained.
2) Must be paid
3) Has no loyalty to the community
4) Might desert
5) Feared by the community
6) Community fails to develop strength and confidence because they are dependent on the ANSF for security.
7) Community becomes exploitable because they can not guarantee their protection
8) ANSF can become corrupt because they are a part of the bureaucracy.
9) ANSF soldier more interested in money than protection
10) ANSF soldier can not be sustained long term, without support from the US

kdog101 (not verified)

Wed, 01/26/2011 - 11:58pm

You say that our presence is keeping the Taliban from taking over. Why can't the Afghans handle their own security? By Afghans, I do not mean the ANSF. I mean the people of the community.

The benefit of of Afghans handling their own security:
1) They can start providing security from day one. They do not need to go to basic training.
2) They do not need to be paid.
3) They protect their own community because it is in their interest to do so.
4) They can organize as a local political entity, which makes them more effective.
5) Everyone can participate.
6) They are empowered as individuals.
7) They know the people and the areas around them.
8) They have more control over their lives and destiny.
9) Insurgents will be much more wary of disturbing them.
10) They can can use their power to protect their interests. Foreign entities, central governments, will have to negotiate with them, versus trying to control them.

What makes you think Afghans can not achieve this? At the beginning of the conflict, before we indoctrinated them, they were able to fight the Taliban without any large amount of US soldiers on the ground.

Demon Fox

Wed, 01/26/2011 - 12:10am


You are correct in that our presence often inflames the situation. Unfortunately, our presence is keeping the Taliban from taking the government back over - so we're kinda stuck there. The local attitude towards us varies from district to district depending on how well that battlespace owner has been at conducting COIN. In lots of areas the locals are very supportive of ISAF forces because they are sick of the Taliban (or whatever insurgent or criminal element controls the area).

The biggest rapport killers with the locals is civilian casualties (CIVCAS). All of a unit's efforts can be undone in an instant when CIVCAS occurs. The enemy knows this and lures ISAF units into overreacting during engagements. ISAF units will often opt to bring in artillery or JDAMs to neutralize a single enemy rifleman creating more collateral damage than required for the situation. This is a shame particularly when the situation could often be resolved with a good marksman using a single $2.00 bullet to take out an enemy 200 meters away instead of using a $50,000 JDAM or Excalibur.



kdog101 (not verified)

Sun, 01/23/2011 - 2:50am

MSG Black,

Perhaps you have a valid point with a strict definition of COIN, but where I take issue is our involvement with COIN. I am ok with the Afghans fighting the counter insurgency, not us.

So when I say we should not be doing COIN, I mean as a general practice we should not have any significant amount of soldiers conducting operations for the purpose fighting insurgents in Afghanistan.

There are many reasons for this. One being that our presence inflames the situation.

Demon Fox

Sat, 01/22/2011 - 11:24pm


MAJ Gant is on the money with his TC UW/FID concept. How do I know this? Simple: my team (along with many other units) already did it over three years ago in Iraq! Why do you think we are now conducting major troop withdrawals from OIF - because it works!

Between 2003 and 2009 I conducted six rotations to OIF. The key to success there - more than any other factor, to include Gen Petraeus' troop surge - was the integration of local and tribal elements into their own local defense forces. Over time this became collectively known as the Sons of Iraq program. My team assisted multiple tribal elements, both Sunni and Shiite, in defending their villages from insurgent and criminal groups. The locals were sick of being bullied and did something about it. It worked in Iraq and it will work in Afghanistan, too.

Many will say, "That was Iraq, this is Afghanistan." I was in Helmand Province just a few weeks ago as a contractor. I was intrigued to find just how similar the situation there is to Iraq about four years ago. What also shocked me (and colleagues who were experienced in OIF) was how few lessons-learned had been passed from OIF to OEF. Additionally, I heard the identical discussions concerning the stand-up of locals for village security that we had in Iraq four years ago.

Fortunately, Gen Petraeus has already started to bridge that gap. He has not forgotten the mistakes he witnessed in OIF. Many Afghan villages have already asked to form their own Local Defense Force (LDF). ISAF SF units have begun Village Stability Operations (VSO) and other programs designed to bring the locals into the fight - not just ISAF and the Afghan forces. This is COIN at its best.

Let's talk about COIN for a bit. I see some posts above saying we should get rid of "COIN" and conduct tribal/local engagements, etc. I've heard similar discussions in other places. Engagements ARE COIN! People who make these comments don't understand the concept. In Kandahar Province, there was a battalion commander who forbade his staff from using the term COIN. He was fired - and rightfully so. His officer training apparently failed to educate him (and others) properly in the conduct of modern warfare.

The only issues I have with the TC UW/FID discussion is the terminology itself. First, the Afghan people are village centric, not tribe centric (like Iraqis). The tribal organization/affiliation has long been fragmented in their society. Second, the term "Unconventional Warfare" is what SF units do in SUPPORT of insurgencies to overthrow a hostile government. Our UW activities in both Afghanistan and Iraq ended as soon as those hostile governments fell. As soon as the Ba'athist and Taliban regimes fell, we immediately shifted to the opposite end of the conflict spectrum: COIN. Third, the term "Foreign Internal Defense" applies when US forces train and assist an allied government's forces in the conduct of COIN or other security operations. Village or tribal local defense forces are NOT official government forces, even though they may be sanctioned and supported by the government. In this case, we are conducting "Surrogate Force Operations." Can find that one in the manual? Sorry, but the term "surrogate force" is not defined in any US joint or Army doctrinal publication - I know, I've researched it and written a paper on the subject. If this were a SIPR blog I'd post a copy once my co-author and I finish a final draft. In fact, when it comes to special operations in general, doctrinal clarification is weak or non-existent.




Mon, 05/24/2010 - 8:25am

"The tribes have as much to lose as anyone if the Taliban gets back in "control" in Afghanistan."

If you are talking about the Hezara and the female "tribes", I would agree.
Otherwise, not so much.

kdog101 (not verified)

Sun, 05/23/2010 - 10:20pm

Sir, I appreciate your response,

I do not wish that we abandon anyone, and certainly do not want to make any enemies, but this conflict is costly in many different ways, and it is questionable in how it ties in with our national interest. I find too much about our tactics and strategy that makes me question why.

I see your strategy as an alternative and not a supplement to what we are currently doing. I do not believe in using our military as a peace keeping or police force. I think it is too much involvement in the day to day affairs of a foreign population. It is too costly in lives and resources. It seems an unnecessary risk to our soldiers; wrong to the Afghan people; wrong for our capability and technology; wrong based on track record and history.

Why not a more conservative approach? Use a much smaller support force. Support the people along the lines of the tribe (or locals) strategy. Small low profile engagements. We know the Afghans can defend themselves, do they really need us in any great number? They know who they have to fight, they know the territory, they know who they can talk with, do we?

Why not a strategy that plays to our strengths and the enemies weaknesses. Lets not give the enemy a chance to strike at us (i.e. no troops in the open, no patrols, no convoys). We attack them when we choose. Is that going to be very motivating for the terrorists?

Lets have a strategy that does not create a burden on us, that we can actually sustain for the long run. Where time is on our side, not the enemies.

Lets have a strategy that does not handcuff the Afghan people. That does not dictate a particular government. That does not create infrastructure that they can not sustain on their own.

Perhaps along such a strategy a government will form in a more natural way, where tribes form alliances, alliances form states, states combine to form a country. Or perhaps not, but we do not risk American soldiers lives on a questionable outcome. Are we sure building up a government in an Islamic setting is a good idea? I question supporting anything that ties religion and government closely and has low tolerance for truth and alternative perspectives.


Tue, 05/18/2010 - 2:02pm


Hope all is well. You raise a good point.

I believe there is a strong coincidence of interests between the Pashtun tribes and the U.S. military. The tribes have many reasons to oppose Taliban control in their areas, but they need help to push the Taliban out and also to gain a voice in local governance. So stated another way, our enlisting their support goes hand in hand with empowering them to accomplish their own goals. And if we then abandon them, we are letting them down as well as ourselves.

The tribes have as much to lose as anyone if the Taliban gets back in "control" in Afghanistan.


Jim Gant


Tue, 05/18/2010 - 1:57pm


Hope all is well. You raise a good point.

I believe there is a strong coincidence of interests between the Pashtun tribes and the U.S. military. The tribes have many reasons to oppose Taliban control in their areas, but they need help to push the Taliban out and also to gain a voice in local governance. So stated another way, our enlisting their support goes hand in hand with empowering them to accomplish their own goals. And if we then abandon them, we are letting them down as well as ourselves.

The tribes have as much to lose as anyone if the Taliban gets back in "control" in Afghanistan.


Jim Gant

kdog101 (not verified)

Tue, 05/18/2010 - 12:24pm

One concern I have with Jim Gant's approach is I get the sense that he is trying to convince the tribes to join our fight:
"If we enlist their support and then abandon them, we will have made them our enemies forever."

Versus the alternative, where the US supports their cause because we share a common interest. I believe this was true when we supported the Northern Alliance and allied tribes in the beginning of this conflict. We had a common interest, and it was a win win situation.

I suggest we either find partners who share our interest, or we move on.

Ian (not verified)

Tue, 05/18/2010 - 9:03am

That's what I call quick service! Thanks!

Ian (not verified)

Tue, 05/18/2010 - 8:27am

This very solidly researched report on the local-center political relationship and how it's structured in various regions ought to be read by all. It just came out in the last day or two, and SWJ should really stick it in its own post for people to respond to. Noah Coburn has lived in Afghanistan (not FOBistan) for extended periods and his work is top-notch.…

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 05/17/2010 - 3:59pm

<b>Outlaw 7:</b>

Nope. He thought the opposition in Iraq were essentially incompetent fighters and disliked the generic lack of forthright conduct endemic to Arab societies. The Afghans, OTOH, he likes because they are pragmatic, forthright and competent opponents who will generally fight well. In Iraq, his Vehicle got hit by one IED, he didn't particularly enjoy that or want the PH that came with it but figured it went with the job, no big thing. In Afghanistan, as he said, he didn't get PTSD, he gave it...<blockquote>"I simply do not see any attempts in the current COIN to counter the Taliban "shadow government"---I do see alot of attempts to build a "parallel government" as a counterwight and just how is that program doing?"</blockquote>Dunno. Not good, I suspect. Fruitless task with little to no success likely.

I didn't say we'd get out of Afghanistan with the boat in a level stable state. I did say Afghanistan was on autopilot. IOW the trajectory is unlikely to change much barring unforeseen circumstances -- the Poppy Fungus may have an impact, other things could as well but I suspect little real change is going to occur.

Also said we'd probably achieve an acceptable outcome. Since I expected very little going in there, got a rapid turnaround but then went "Aws..." when we foolishly (IMO) decided to stay, I didn't and don't expect a great outcome or even a good one, just one that's barely acceptable. We'll see...

Outlaw 7 (not verified)

Mon, 05/17/2010 - 2:54pm


Your son probably did not like the Iraq side simply due to the daily level of IEDs and the ops tempo of the IED campaign being conducted by the Iraqi Sunni/Shiite insurgent groups.

No one likes to dodge EFPs and effectively controlled RCIEDs where the IED rates were running one patrol out of every three being hit---any soldier can do the math.

Hate to say it, but one now is seeing the same type of IED campaign being conducted against foot patrols--and they are killing.

I am not so sure as you are that we will be getting the boat out of Afghanistan in a level stable state.

When one looks at the ops tempo being setup by the Taliban one has to ask after what eight years and they are still not slowing down--their shadow government in effect controls all of Afghanistan and as long as that shadow government is not eliminated the boat will be taking on alot of water.

I simply do not see any attempts in the current COIN to counter the Taliban "shadow government"---I do see alot of attempts to build a "parallel government" as a counterwight and just how is that program doing?


Mon, 05/17/2010 - 9:42am

COL Jones,

Is there any other information about the Village Stability Operations available for public release? Googling it yielded only this thread (kudos to your OPSEC manager).

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 05/17/2010 - 2:45am

<b>Outlaw 7:</b>

1. That was Iraq, this is Afghanistan. I too doubt many more troops will be committed. One does not match the Taliban surge, that's what they want us to do. As for what they will do and what the Iraqis did, as a smart old Colonel told me a long time ago, you can only do so many things with so many people and a given opponent and a given piece of terrain...

2. I'd also hate to be the one killed or wounded there. I'd also hate for my son to be killed or wounded on his third tour there -- he enjoyed the first two, didn't care for Iraq all that much. Says the Afghans are worth fighting, they know how.

3. Once upon a time I was a Marine, then I was one of those Pentomic Paracaidistas -- a 'Company' in my grosstimation is about 200 bods. If ~200 is the median number, and there's a group of 10, there must be another group of about 400 nearby. That also means the gross combat effective stength is around 8K in-country, another 8K moving in, 8K moving out and another 8K in R&R in Quetta and other locations. Do the math. That's around 32K max. Probability of a tactical or operational 'win' -- near zero (even if they doubled that strength). As for aligning with the VC structure, as I said, there are only so many things one can do with so many men. That same structure was adapted from the Chinese and was used by the Marine Raider Bns -- a near clone was used by the early Ranger Bns. Thus I'm unsure why it should be taught at the CTC or CAC sponsored events. While their AQ, uh, oriental and other advisers may be teaching that organization, it really will make little difference and is highly likely to change -- the Afghans are awfully independent..

4. I agree for some regions, perhaps not so much in others. Without being on the ground I can't say.<blockquote>"This war is so inherently an IO war especially focused on the home front consumer and we are losing that particular battle the last time I checked especially on the recent stats showing a lowering of popular support in both the US and NATO countries.<br>

It is really diffcult to sell a war to the home front if one constantly reads the Taliban are holding their on against the increased troop surge by the US military.</blockquote>Yes it is -- that's why I posted the quote from Colonel Kemp in the article you linked. 'Support' by the public here and in Europe plus Australia, NZ and the other supporting nations will do what it does and no one has adequate troops to provide to change that. It'll rise and fall dependent on many things but I don't believe most will want to just quit -- many will but not most.

It is indeed dificult -- that's why they're doing it. The ignorance and attitude of most media folks doesn't help. We cannot really counter it adequately in the near term -- in the long term, they'll get decimated and they know it. That's why they're surging, to turn US public opinion before they get zapped. Will they succeed? Don't know, too early to tell.

Immaterial in one sense, Afghanistan is on autopilot and it was never going to float upon an even keel. There was never going to be a victory in this war by either side.

As is true in any COIN Op, best you can hope for is not a 'win' but an acceptable outcome -- and that's all I ever expected. At this point, I have no reason to doubt that can still be obtained. ;)

Outlaw 7 (not verified)

Mon, 05/17/2010 - 1:16am


A number of things come to mind;
1. What was the ops tempo of the Iraqi insurgency that eventually forced the US Army to surge in 2007?-so now that we have surged what we can now do as I doubt more troops will be committed ---how does one then match the Taliban surge especially if they decide to pressure us on multiple fronts to ease the strain on them in the coming campaign --which they will do as the Iraqi insurgency did that constantly

2. secondly if I read correctly the latest US/NATO killed and wounded rates for the last week or two are slowly climbing so even if the number of 40 per day sounds low I would hate to be the one killed or wounded while engaged in one of those low number of attacks statistics

3. by the way your numbers of Taliban per attacks are on the low side if the recent Kilcullen comments are accurate---this is the interesting thing-if we take the Kilcullen Taliban TO&E break down he provided during a recent presentation it is starting to strike me that the Taliban are structuring themselves closely with the Viet Cong structure and this is something not taught at CTCs or at CAC sponsered events to BCT Cmdrs

4. the proposed tribal engagement model proposed by MAJ Gant would in fact go a long way in countering the current Taliban TO&E fighting model as it would cause the Taliban fighting units to stick closer to home turf before launching attacks outside of their home turf against ISAF units

This war is so inherently an IO war especially focused on the home front consumer and we are losing that particular battle the last time I checked especially on the recent stats showing a lowering of popular support in both the US and NATO countries.

It is really diffcult to sell a war to the home front if one constantly reads the Taliban are holding their on against the increased troop surge by the US military.


Mon, 05/17/2010 - 1:04am


I cannot wait to get back over and help in whatever capacity I am needed.

All I have ever wanted to do is to have a positive impact on the war and SF.

It is all about helping the war effort.

Looking forward to seeing you soon.


Jim Gant

Bob's World

Mon, 05/17/2010 - 12:25am

For what it is worth, the Village Stability Operations being conducted currently in Afghanistan by the CJSOTF:

1. Are local engagnement, not "tribal"; and focused far more on enabling and connecting the legitimacy of local governance to the offical GIROA governance at the District level, and vice versa.

2. Are not about building militias/informal security forces. Security is a critical requirement, so security forces are an essential aspect of the program, but not the purpose of the program. These forces will be much more like the the US National Guard than militias. Official, legitimate, on the Tashkil, and controlled by GIROA.

3. It has little in common with what Jim described in his great paper. Yes, the ODA is the essential Core, yes it is rooted in fundamental SF skills of establishing rapport and living and working with the local populace; but it is not about building a network of tribal militias led and enabled by US Army Spceial Forces, to go out and defeat the Taliban, and thereby save Afghanistan. It is a supporting effort to larger operations executed by the Coalition and GIROA, and shows promise of enabling greater success in a few critical locations.


Sun, 05/16/2010 - 11:00pm


Thanks for the post. I am currently getting my stuff together to deploy. I am spread-out over the entire east coast right now and do not have my reference material with me.

I will answer your question as to which books, readings,articles and papers support a tribal engagment strategy as soon as I get back to my "stuff."

You are right about one thing - my definition of tribe is not the same as most. Once I get back to my AO, I will come back and specifically answer this posting.

Take care,


Jim Gant


Sun, 05/16/2010 - 10:17pm

MAJ Gant,

<em>"A preponderance of historical evidence suggests that building a strong Afghan central government will not work, but there is far less to indicate that a "tribal centric" COIN strategy wont be successful."</em>

I agree wholeheartedly with the first half of that sentence. I lack enough information to judge the second half. While I understand you are asserting less evidence to <em>reject</em> a "tribal centric" COIN approach, I wonder if there is any evidence to suggest that we should <em>accept</em> it. Can you point us to any?

Also, could you clarify your use of "tribe"? Do you mean only tribes or do you mean any non-state unit - such as community, extended family, mini warlord proto-state, or any manifestation of "qawn", et cetera?

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 05/16/2010 - 9:26pm

The Ship was never going to float very well...

Lessee; 40 attacks a day, in about company strength as a median, against about 55K Coalition westerners and 75-100K (depending upon present for duty strength that day...) ANA plus the Cops. All in a nation about the size of Texas.

Where I suspect there are also about twice that many attacks a day. Color me unimpressed. The end is not nigh.

Key quote from the linked article:<blockquote>"Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Helmand province, said: "While there's no chance of our forces being defeated in the field, there is every chance of us losing this war at home."</blockquote>A little simplistic, I suspect but I understand his point. What was it FDR Said? "We have nothing to fear but the media itself..."

Outlaw 7 (not verified)

Sun, 05/16/2010 - 8:53pm

Hate to admit it, but this article listed below from today simply points out that if we do not try something different the whole ship is going under.

The article supports a number of things I have mentioned here---that in fact long term it is the tribe centric view that will prevail not pop centric.

The one serious question we should all be asking is there enough time and has the COG shifted to the Taliban. A Taliban ops tempo increase of 83% over same period last year reflects a major Taliban surge--are they in fact outsurging us---the same thing happened with the Iraqi insurgency ops tempo in early 2007?

Link to article:…


Sun, 05/16/2010 - 6:48pm

First of all, I am in complete agreement with the paper, "A CIA COINdinistas Misgivings on Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan."

I know the author personally. I met him about a month ago and he showed me the paper. I read it with great enthusiasm and was hopeful that it would make its way into the right hands. It has done that. We did not "conspire" and we gain nothing by supporting each others viewpoints. He is the real deal. Because of his current position working every day to support troops on the ground in Afghanistan, and his experience in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, he must remain anonymous.

I was involved in planning for and conducting operations in Afghanistan from 02 until 04. Afterwards, I remained closely engaged with several of the ODAs operating there. I am contacted regularly by my students from the unconventional warfare (UW) phase of Special Forces training who are deployed in Afghanistan and understand conditions on the ground. As far the "door-kicking" mentality that SF has acquired - I agree with that assessment. I was a main perpetrator of this problem. As a team leader my mission statement was "kill or capture anti-coalition members." We had no partner force. It was all "direct action" and "armed reconnaissance" missions. It was not until much later when I became an instructor at the UW phase of SF training and came under the tutelage of Ed Brodey and MSG Joel McWhinney (sorry Mac!) that I became a student of UW and took the time to analyze what had been successful in Afghanistan and what had not. My time in Iraq also reinforced what I had learned in Afghanistan abut relationship building and "combat advising" at the tactical level. We (SF) are doing better. Today we are playing to our strengths much more than we were earlier in the war. I will say however, that there has been a culture shift in SF much more towards direct action than the "with and through" mentality. My NCOs and I worked very hard to change that out at "Robin Sage" - but we need to regain that expertise - and we need to do it quickly.

Now, another point is that from what I understand the Afghan commando units are the best Afghan units there are. Why? SF soldiers have been with them now for YEARS. As Col Dave Maxwell wrote on this blog recently, "We have to remember that operations in this complex environment require "presence, patience, and persistence" - you have to be present and engaged to make a difference, it takes patience because it takes a long time to see results and achieve effects, and it takes persistence because there is not template, no scientific application, no cookie cutter solution that can be applied in a one size fits all. And further it takes persistence because we will not always get it right the first time (and perhaps not the second or third time) and what works in one province, district, or tribe may not work in others." That falls in line with my tactical pillars of "consistency, continuity and commitment." We need to do a better job with that across the board in Afghanistan, not just with the tribes we are working with in LDI/VSO but with ANA/ANP units and the personnel who are working to try and build Afghan government institutions as well.

My next point is one of great frustration. A preponderance of historical evidence suggests that building a strong Afghan central government will not work, but there is far less to indicate that a "tribal centric" COIN strategy wont be successful. Why can we point to "history" and say tribal engagment won't work and not acknowledge that "history" clearly states that building a strong central government in Afghanistan won't work?

Recent events with the Shinwari tribe illustrate a major missed opportunity, but they in no way show that tribal engagement will not work. I will sum up what happened there with my simple saying: "It is a person not a plan or a process the tribes want." If we rolled up to any village, any city, any ANA unit and dropped off $100, 000 and said, "Thanks for your help, make it work," we would fail. Tribal engagement will work. Tribal involvement will not. Bribing tribes will not. Half measure will not. Doing tribal engagement correctly takes a great deal of planning prior to infil and vigilant on-the-ground work - every single day - for months at a time. And yes, if we are truly leaving Afghanistan in the next 12 to 15 months, then we should leave the tribes alone. If we enlist their support and then abandon them, we will have made them our enemies forever.

In response to the many references on this blog to the article, "My Cousins Enemy is My Friend A Study of Pashtun Tribes," many documents and experts have already refuted its conclusions. I have spoken to many experts in the field of anthropology, social scientists, HTS members and sharp military analysts who agree that the paper is at best of limited use in very small parts of Afghanistan.

In conclusion, I whole-heartedly support the ideas brought forth in "A CIA COINdinistas Misgivings on Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan." I focused on the application of unconventional warfare to tribal engagement in a recent speech at the COIN Symposium at Fort Leavenworth. I will post my speech, along with the subsequent question and answers, on Mac McCallisters web-site "Agora" and the SWJ. I address many different issues that I think will be of interest for those who are following this subject.


Jim Gant

kdog101 (not verified)

Sat, 05/15/2010 - 1:49am

Get rid of nation building strategy. Get rid of COIN. Engage the tribes, locals, warlords, etc. Form relationships of a common interest. We benefit by having some eyes and influence in the region, they benefit by being stronger.

It is the alternative to sending many troops into the country. It is not perfect, it is not a democracy, but it works.

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 05/14/2010 - 4:33pm

I have the same question for Foust that yadernye posed.

My concern about a "tribal" approach is the same concern that I have about COIN. It is a method that is driven by a bright idea rather than an overarching strategy. Conduct pop-COIN to what end? Conduct tribal engagement to what end? But if we are engaging communities with the desire to expel the Taliban (which might be feasible), rather than with the desire to connect them to the central government (which does not seem feasible), then this seems more hopeful than our current strategy, or lack thereof.

Ian (not verified)

Fri, 05/14/2010 - 2:34pm

Speaking for myself, I am very much in favor of having locals actively involved in their own governance. What I have a problem with is the idea that 1) this is a replacement for the central and provincial governments (rather than a necessary complement to them, and 2) that you can pick sides and/or engage the "elders" without knowing the very minute details of a community which may be riven by also sorts of tribal, semi-tribal, or completely untribal issues (which I believe causes more conflict rather than less, viz. the Shinwari case).

If you think you can pay a tribe a million dollars and they'll give you a green-colored district on your powerpoint slide, that's what I'm against. There's a ton of evidence from pre-1979, the Soviet war, and our war that tells us this is among the worst options you can choose.


Fri, 05/14/2010 - 12:27pm


I have followed pretty closely the arguments you and Ian have lodged against the concept of tribal engagement as espoused by MAJ Gant, Mac McCallister, and others. I have read with interest the sources you've cited in support of your contentions. What I cannot figure out is if you object to just the notion of engaging tribes, or if you reject the whole idea of local engagement, be it at the qawm, village, tribal, or any other level.

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 05/14/2010 - 10:52am

Interesting comments...

<b>Dave Maxwell</b> says <i>"Special Forces is not focused on kicking down doors. They are executing multiple programs that are FID."</i> I have no doubt he's correct but the perception by many, not just a peripatetic comic book loving reporter who makes quick visits and then writes volumes from a standpoint of limited knowledge and hearsay, is that in the ME, DA has eclipsed the FID aspect to the detriment of the Groups' capabilities. May well not be correct but with full knowledge that the autonomy of the Detachments and the functions of METT-TC can lead to many varied approaches, it is a worrying perception. Not so much for the current campaign in Afghanistan and the broader ME but for worldwide and future use...

<b>Joshua Foust says:</b> <blockquote>"lots of commenters on this blog mock, repeatedly, these sorts of studies. Yet there is little dispute amongst scholars about the value of "tribal" engagement: it has no value. It's a tried, and failed, idea.</blockquote>Perhaps true, I've paid little attention to the argument but what I have seen is with only a couple of exceptions not mocking but simply disagreement and conditioned disagreement at that.

With some experience with different tribes and groups long ago, it seems to me that the METT-TC functions again are the key. Tribes have their uses but are not totally a solution to anything as other societal pressures can discount or discourage tribal influences. Each area of a nation, each grouping of people and each interfacing outsider conglomeration will have varying success with tribal and / or other collective approaches as all those factors impact the particular situation. They can and will also vary significantly over time as conditions and personalities change.

I agree with him that adopting a tribal approach as a widespread policy is suspect. I also believe that totally rejecting a tribal approach is unwise. The solution has to address the specific problem and locale. <u>Any</u> one size fits all answer will generally be incorrect.


While Spencer didn't cite the complete body of work about the challenges posed by tribal engagement, there are lots of examples beyond the Shinwari (and indeed, those examples informed a lot of opposition to that plan, including mine). For starters, the Human Terrain System critiqued the very idea of filtering our understanding of Afghanistan through "tribe":…-

Moreover, I've written about this as well, and how these efforts to "engage tribes" have a looooong history of failure:…

Finally, historical analyses of these tribal engagement strategies demonstrate their extreme difficulty, and argue against our adopting them as a viable, widespread policy:

It should be noted that lots of commenters on this blog mock, repeatedly, these sorts of studies. Yet there is little dispute amongst scholars about the value of "tribal" engagement: it has no value. It's a tried, and failed, idea.

Bob's World

Fri, 05/14/2010 - 10:03am

Just a short note of endorsement to concur with Dave Maxwell on all points.

The primary mission in Afghanistan is Foreign Internal Defense (in support of a population-centric COIN strategy).

LDI has, however given way in recent days to "Village Stability Operations" conducted through a "Village Stability Platform"; which is pure Special Forces playing to the strength of the Regiment. Engaging the populace as the lowest level, establishing security and connecting the people to the Government of Afghanistan in critical locations and enabling the extension of the District level governmental leaders to reach out to and support their constituents.

Two things about this article.

First I question the credibility of this "former CIA counterterrorism operative" because he continues to perpetuate the myth that SF is merely kicking down doors in Afghanistan. Note this quote:

"The execution of a TC UW/FID strategy involves refocusing Special Forces groups away from SOF-style door-kicking and back to their traditional mission of training and equipping indigenous forces. SF units should be engaging and equipping key tribal leaders, with CIA, State and other civilian departments such as Agriculture offering tailored incentives for cooperation, with coalition forces ready to assist if needed."

Special Forces are working through and with the Afghans - note the Afghan commandos and the recently established Afghan Special Forces. Note the Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3) and the Community Defense Initiative (CDI) and Local Defense Initiative (LDI). Special Forces is not focused on kicking down doors. They are executing multiple programs that are FID.

Secondly, Mr. Ackerman makes this statement:

"Second, a tribal-based approach has recently crashed and burned in eastern Afghanistan, where an effort to capitalize on the Shinwari tribes willingness to fight the Taliban in exchange for cold hard cash encountered the insurmountable obstacles of inter-tribal rivalries; hostile and threatened Afghan government structures; U.S. civilian unwillingness to risk alienating the Afghan government; and simply insufficient U.S. knowledge of the complexities of Afghan tribal structures and how to navigate them. Any proposed tribal-based strategy needs to explain why this time would be different."

This cited example is anecdotal at best but that press report is likely to take on a life of its own and be used to debunk any future initiatives by citing it as a failure as Mr. Ackerman has done (healthy skepticism is okay but citing one example of why something wont work is not helpful). It was not executed by Special Forces and, though I could be wrong, I do not think it was not part of any of the existing programs. I surmise that it may have been an attempt to try to emulate MAJ Gants paper but doing it the units own way and probably tried to do much too fast. We have to remember that operations in this complex environment require "presence, patience, and persistence" - you have to be present and engaged to make a difference, it takes patience because it takes a long time to see results and achieve effects, and it takes persistence because there is not template, no scientific application, no cookie cutter solution that can be applied in a one size fits all. And further it takes persistence because we will not always get it right the first time (and perhaps not the second or third time) and what works in one province, district, or tribe may not work in others.

And of course here is my biggest frustration - we have to come up with a new term "Tribal Centric Unconventional Warfare/Foreign Internal Defense (TC UW/FID). We really do need that nonproliferation treaty to stop the buzzword bingo we are playing. Lets get back to basics. Sufficient doctrine and terminology exists to train and explain everything that needs doing. Lets focus on devising strategy and campaign plans that can be described in plain, clear language that can be understand by not only the military but by the other agency partners as well and then have the discipline to execute the plans over time rather than chasing every new idea and developing new organizations to satisfy every new pet rock.